Stefanie Leong, Head of Development & Recognition for Asia Pacific of the International Baccalaureate (IB), speaks to Amita Jain at Didac India on the growth of IB schools in India and future plans…
Q. What makes IB different from other boards on the offering in India and why should parents and children opt for it?
A. One of the first things that students tell us is that they opt for IB because it helps them develop the agility and imagination needed to enter universities around the globe. The great acceptance of IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) among students worldwide creates immense possibilities for them and it is one of the reasons for the warm acceptance of the IB programme among Indian students and parents. Through inquiry, action and reflection, the IB programmes develop a range of competencies and dispositions in students, including thinking skills, teamwork, communication skills and research, to help them become a competent global participant. Secondly, the focus of both students and parents has shifted from rote learning to real learning. They tell us that they want to learn the subjects and not just rote learn them. Finally, while there are many international school programmes available, IB is at the intersection of both local and international. An IB education is international in focus, but we always begin our understanding and inquiry at one’s own culture. In today’s hyper-globalized education landscape where there is a danger of the richness of geographies and cultures being lost, we focus on localizing yet internationalizing the content and it thus creates a perfect learning environment for students who are able to remain in India should they choose to go for Indian universities in higher education or opt for options globally.
Q. There has been a rise in the uptake of the IB in India. What factors do you attribute to its increased demand?
A. India is becoming a major economic power and parents want their children to develop a sense of internationalism, so they become ready for the global marketplace. With the increased open economic policies and acknowledgement for the importance of a global outlook, the number of schools embracing IB has increased from being concentrated in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai to parts of Ahmedabad, Pune, Bhopal, etc. A lot of teachers share that they prefer the IB because of its emphasis on ‘individuals’. Here, teachers are facilitators of learning, while students as learners are at the centre stage of the learning process.. It is a powerful method of teaching compared to other curriculums where teaching takes place strictly from textbooks. For example, transdisciplinary learning in primary years’ programmes allows students to connect the dots about how things actually work in the world. The approach is what makes us different and it is the reason for its rapid growth. At all levels, the IB programmes encourage the joy of learning which many parents, students and teachers welcome as a viable alternative.
Q. Have there been any trends visible in the spread of IB World schools in India?
A. We have noticed that a lot of schools initially start by offering the IB diploma programme and then they gradually opt for the Primary Years Programme. An even more surprising trend is that many schools move towards offering continuous IB programme all throughout, i.e. IB Primary Years, Middle Years and IB Diploma Programme. I think schools first want to be sure of what they are doing and once they get touched by the IB education the trend towards the uptake of continuous IB education rises. Partial adoption, in the beginning, acts as the trust and confidence-building measure.
Q. How do you plan to make IB school system more inclusive and affordable so people of all income strata are able to benefit from what IB has to offer?
A. One thing we keep saying is that IB is no prince education. We don’t necessarily need fancy infrastructure to run IB schools and to include IB’s curriculum in the learning process. Around the world, we have many affordable IB schools charging low fees a year. Currently, more than 53% of our schools globally come under the state sector and are run by their governments. In Japan, for instance, we have a project with the Japanese government wherein we are creating 200 Article 1 schools running the IB. We also want to do that in India. We are already in conversation with some state governments, like Delhi and others to integrate the IB with government schools. Moreover, even people at an individual level are taking up this task of making an IB education accessible to all. Recently, an aspirant school owner from India inspired by the quality of IB education came to me with the idea of establishing affordable and low-cost IB school. We expect such initiatives to grow with time.
Q. What challenges are you facing in making IB more acceptable in the Indian scheme of higher education?
A. There is a lot of misunderstanding in terms of the IBDP’s acceptance in Indian universities and overseas which our students are countering by entering these universities and excelling in different fields. At present, we have over 170 universities in India accepting the IBDP without additional assessment. We also have recognition of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) for both the IBDP and the Middle Years Programme. The alumni of IB are going to the best colleges in India and rest of the world, including the University of Mumbai and Delhi, NMIMS, Ashoka University, et.al. The IB offers vast subject choices to its students in grade 11 and 12. To satisfy the entrance requirements for the university/course they wish to join after 10+2, they can take desired subject choices while completing the IBDP and take JEE, NEET and other entrances without any issue. IB gives permission to students to take even three sciences in IBDP. Research has told that IBDP alumni compare favourably with students from other boards. IBDP alumni have also been reported with higher capacities for 21st-century skills compared to their non-DP counterparts.
Q. Your take on Indian education policies…
A. Educational policies around the world are changing. They are focusing more on learning and less on rote learning. Professional development of teachers has become a prime focus. This very much aligns to what IB has been doing for a long time. So, we at IB feel very honoured that some countries have decided to adopt the IB programme in their state systems. We are looking forward to working more with the Indian government on similar lines.
Q. Any future expansion plans…
A. So far we have seen IB growing in importance in metro cities like Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi-NCR. We are now taking our mission to expand IB schools in tier-2 cities of India. Globally, we are adopting a similar approach like in China, we are looking to develop IB programmes for remote areas.
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